Tonga Ross-Ma'u Sextet live at Dizzy's
Ross-Ma'u led a tight ensemble of veteran and younger players through an ambitious program of original material and lesser known standards.
One of Chuck Perrin of Dizzy's greatest attributes is his fondness for showcasing emergent or lesser known talent to the wider San Diego jazz fan base.
On April 14, I got the opportunity to take in a show that featured some players I rarely get a chance to see when multi-instrumentalist Tonga Ross-Ma'u led an excellent sextet comprised of Kamau Kenyatta on piano, Antar Martin on bass, Derek Cannon on trumpet, Richard Sellers on drums and a young LA musician, Javon Harvey on tenor saxophone.
Opening with the gentle swing lilt of "Ugetsu," Cannon emerged first with tart aphorisms, deftly blending velocity with long tones over the powerful lines of Martin. Ross-Ma'u followed on guitar, pushing squiggly lines reminiscent of John Abercrombie and early Pat Metheny. Kenyatta's lush harmonies and self-contained melodic strikes rounded it all out.
"Peter Kobia," by Kenyatta was next, featuring a remarkably cogent tenor solo by Harvey, who had the patience to distribute silence equally among his complex lines. Ross-Ma'u entered with horizontally oriented legato lines peppered with short glissandi before the composer responded with cascading melodic sparkles over the kinetic energy of Sellers.
Kenyatta sat out when Ross-Ma'u went to the piano to lead the band into an original, "The Iron Horse," fueled by the Martin's throbbing pedal-point and the propulsive brushwork of Sellers, whose drums were a constant source of delight. There was a distinctly Wayne Shorter-ish feel to this piece as the leader's piano culled laid-back phrases that built slowly into a climactic exchange with Sellers.
Ross-Ma'us piano and Cannon's flugelhorn began "Of Sun & Sand," as a duo, leading to a breathtaking solo from Cannon's warm horn when the full band entered.
"St. Louis Blues," got a modern makeover, with everyone contributing extended solos, especially Sellers, who dropped some jaws with his architecturally developed feature that kept a strong funk undercurrent just beneath the surface.